- Not everyone is satisfied with the redistricting efforts taking place in Texas and other states.
- Advocates say should some of these proposed maps be adopted voters of color suffer.
- “People power” and legislation are required to reform the electoral system.
Last month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed off on the state’s new political maps – maps advocates say will greatly dilute the votes of Black and Latino Texans.
Texas was granted two additional Congressional seats because its population has grown significantly since the last time Census data was collected ten years ago.
However, even though Latinos account for approximately half of Texas’ population growth and non-white communities account for around 95% of the state’s overall growth, neither of the two new seats will be assigned to non-white districts in the state.
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Instead, the maps, which were developed by the GOP-led Texas House of Representatives, create two additional majority white districts and decrease the number of majority Latino districts from eight to seven.
The redrawn maps would also erase the state’s sole majority Black district, in a move that advocates say suppresses Black voters.
“Redistricting should reflect the growing political power of communities of color, not constrain it,” Marina Jenkins, the director of litigation and policy for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), a Democrat-led organization that works towards fair maps through litigation and other efforts, told Insider.
“But in Texas, even though this population growth was driven by communities of color, they’re effectively being shut out of the political process,” she added.
Prominent Latino civil rights groups are suing Texas over these maps, arguing that they’re not only unconstitutional, but that they’re racist.
Several Republican Texas legislators maintain that the maps were drawn without attention given to race or ethnicity – a claim advocates find both dubious and “impossible.”
While the repercussions of using these redrawn maps in Texas will be stark, experts say Texas isn’t the only state people should be looking out for.
Similar redistricting efforts are happening all across the US, and advocates are sounding the alarm about how many of these proposed district redesigns will damage the political power of Black and Latino communities.
Call it gerrymandering or redistricting, advocates say voters of color suffer
George Cheung, executive director of More Equitable Democracy (MED), told Insider the redrawn maps will have looming consequences that extend far beyond any given year.
“Without fair district lines, there will be no fair representation,” Cheung told Insider.
“Not only will communities of color not have a voice in their government, he noted, “But bad policy that disproportionately harms communities of color will be passed.”
He added that redistricting has historically been used to dilute the voting power of communities of color through “packing” and “cracking.”
Packing involves placing communities of color together in one or a few districts, while cracking involves spreading communities of color out across multiple districts. Both methods have the effect of reducing the voting power of communities of color.
“Redistricting is the cousin of voter suppression,” Michael Latner, an associate professor of political science at California Polytechnic State University, told Insider. “Whereas voter suppression makes it more difficult for people of color to vote, gerrymandering makes their vote irrelevant.”
Legislation can be one of the best ways to fight unfair maps
Texas officials aren’t the only ones facing litigation over their maps. Several legislators in other states are being sued over what advocates say are unfair maps.
Though North Carolina’s redistricting maps are still in development and have not yet been adopted, several organizations, including the North Carolina NAACP, filed a lawsuit arguing Republican legislators’ refusal to consider race data violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In Alabama, a lawsuit filed by two Democratic legislators, state senators Rodger Smitherman and Bobby Singleton, claims that the proposed redrawn maps are “racial gerrymandered.”
Four constituents have joined the legislator in the pending lawsuit while others are focused on legislators’ perceived lack of transparency.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., and partner advocacy groups preemptively sued South Carolina because state officials were taking a while to redraw its maps.
The organizations want to ensure voters have enough time to weigh in on them.
Similarly, the NDRC and other organizations are suing Ohio officials in two separate lawsuits, claiming the map drawing process was conducted behind closed doors and gives an unfair advantage to the Republican party.
Michael Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy program, argued the fact that all of these named lawsuits are occurring in states led by Republican legislators shows redistricting often co-exists along partisan and racial lines.
Li told Insider that the Supreme Court’s decision in Rucho v. Common Cause, which ruled that partisan gerrymandering is beyond the research of federal courts, allows Republican-controlled states to justify racially discriminatory maps “on the basis of permissibly discriminating against Democrats, rather than illegally discriminating against voters of color.”
“It’s this dynamic where if you’re discriminating against Democrats, that’s okay, but if you’re discriminating on the basis of race, that’s not okay,” Li said.
“That’s not to say Democrats won’t do it,” Li cautioned on the contrary. “But they have less incentive to erase districts that are majority communities of color since many voters of color vote for their party.”
“People power” is required to reform the electoral system
Though litigation is one of the foremost ways to fight for fair maps, it can take months, if not years, to resolve, causing some to fear that maps that dilute the voting power of communities of color will be used during the next election cycle.
That’s why advocates are calling on people to organize and make their voices heard, including by attending redistricting hearings.
Jeanette Senecal, the senior director of mission impact at the League of Women Voters of the United States -a nonpartisan organization that undertakes issues like expanding voter access and redistricting – cites Colorado’s redistricting process as one that was driven by such people power.
The state Supreme Court recently approved maps drawn by the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission, a committee selected by nonpartisan legislative staff agencies that creates preliminary redistricting map and listens to input on the map at public hearings.
The states’ process of redrawing the maps has been praised by many advocates, who say that it was a comparatively open one, driven by public input.
“Voters are the ones who put the independent commission on the ballot,” Senecal told Insider of the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission, which was established in 2018. “They worked long and hard to improve the redistricting process for the next time around.”
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Despite Colorado’s relatively open redistricting process, not everyone is satisfied with the maps, including Latino civil rights groups, who are arguing that because the maps fail to create a majority Latino district, they dilute Latino’s political power.
Latinos make up 21% of the state’s population.
In spite of this dissent, experts say states with independent redistricting commissions come closer to drawing fair maps than commissions run by party legislators – at least, that is, until “the whole system can be reformed,” said Cheung.
“If you want to change Congress, we have to repeal winner-take-all elections that lead to polarization and opt instead for Single-Transferable Vote, or ranked-choice voting systems that can lead to a greater number of constituents having their voices heard,” Cheung said.
“This would eliminate gerrymandering and racially segregated districts altogether.”
As state legislators redraw their maps, advocates emphasize that these maps won’t only set legislative agendas for the next ten years. They stress that allowing politicians the ability to draw districts that ultimately benefit them perpetuates a political system where some Americans’ needs are valued more than others.
These redistricting efforts, they say, effectively helps politicians maintain the status quo – a status quo that is already disenfranchising millions of voters and eliminating their voices from the political process.
This content was originally published here.